by Jennifer Livingstone
I had a daily commute once that took me to a cross section of overlapping highways. If you have never driven through a large American city, it may be hard for you to imagine the scale of this. But the various lanes are suspended over each other – large arcs of concrete rising to the height of multi-storey buildings. And on this commute coming home I was often stuck in traffic, way up high in the air on a lane among dozens, with a view of the city and of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cars and people all around me – above as well as below, speeding by as well as stopped in traffic. And each time, I was always struck by this big oomph of wonder.
I would compare it to the wonder you can feel when looking out onto mountains or from the precipice of a cliff or at the expanse of the ocean. It’s the beauty of feeling small, of sensing your own insignificance and realising that there is so much else that exists and so much more than you can possibly ever hope to know or understand.
And so, coming home each day, I had this sensation that there were thousands of lives around me. Thousands of thoughts, occupations, worries, loves, hopes, fears, homes – people, lives that I would never know or understand. It gave me chills. It was the sense that once you got your head out of your cubicle, the world was indeed vast.
“It was the sense that once you got your head out of your cubicle, the world was indeed vast.”
The feeling comes again on travels, walking through an old city, upon stones rounded by the tread of footsteps long gone, through archways that once looked down on the horse and carriage rather than the car, through cemeteries where there were once fresh flowers against headstones that now lie abandoned.
I feel this in beautiful old libraries and pokey second hand bookshops as I realise I will never – there is no way that I can possibly – read more than a mere, pitiful fraction of all there is.
But, I must emphasise, this is a feeling of celebration rather than of frustration. How wonderful of a puzzle we have and how lucky we are to live in a world ever changing – larger and more complex than we can possibly fathom, but always beautiful. And, happily for us, the task of knowing never ends but ever proceeds – one book, one conversation, one footstep at a time.